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Asia-pacific

Kouchner and Miliband head to Sri Lanka to push for ceasefire

Latest update : 2009-04-28

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (pictured) and his UK counterpart David Miliband will with Sri Lankan officials on Wednesday to push for a truce between Sri Lanka's government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

AFP - France and Britain said Tuesday they would go ahead with a mission to Sri Lanka to push for a ceasefire to help civilians flee the war zone after Sweden's foreign minister was denied a visa.
  
Carl Bildt was to have joined French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday for the high-powered trip to press for a humanitarian truce.
  
The mission comes on the heels of a pledge by the Sri Lankan government to stop using heavy weapons in its offensive against Tamil rebels, now facing total defeat.
  

But a pro-Tamil Tiger website on Tuesday accused Colombo of continuing to pound civilians and a top UN envoy failed to secure agreement from the government to open up the conflict area to aid workers.
  
The foreign ministers "will reiterate the appeal from the international community for a ceasefire, respect for international humanitarian law and protection of civilians," said a French foreign ministry official.
  
Sweden's Bildt -- whose nation takes over the rotating EU presidency in July -- said he was informed by Sri Lankan officials that he would not be allowed to join the mission but that he could make the trip later.
  
"The Sri Lankan authorities have said that they don't accept me," said Bildt, who was attending EU meetings in Luxembourg.
  
"I am not persona non grata because they say I am welcome at another time, but I am not intending to take up that invitation."
  
Sweden recalled its top diplomat in Sri Lanka for consultations over the visa refusal.
  
A Sri Lankan official said they did not want Bildt to take part in a mission that was at the outset planned for Kouchner only.
  
"We invited the French foreign minister and then the British Foreign minister wanted to join him. We said OK. Then the Swedish minister also wanted to jump in on that bandwagon and we said no," the official said.
  
After holding talks in Colombo, Kouchner is due to travel to Vavuniya near the conflict zone in the north to visit a rural hospital staffed by French aid workers.
  
The foreign ministers will press Sri Lanka to open up the conflict area to relief workers after the United Nations's top humanitarian official John Holmes left Colombo on Monday without agreement on aid measures.
  
The United Nations estimates that some 50,000 non-combatants are still trapped in the conflict area, while the government maintains that the number is fewer than 20,000.
  
European Union foreign ministers called for the truce at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday after raising alarm over the plight of civilians in the northeastern region.
  
The United Nations is pressing the government to ensure that civilians are held in camps in line with international standards and allowed freedom of movement which is currently denied to them.
  
Miliband said the world was distressed by the scale of civilian deaths and that this risked scuppering any chance of a lasting peace settlement to end the quarter-century Tamil insurgency.
  
Kouchner, a former humanitarian doctor, last week floated the idea of a joint French-British operation to send ships to rescue civilians stranded on beaches.
  
Both the European Union and the United States have put the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on their list of terror organisations.

Date created : 2009-04-28

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